HOW A BOOK IS BORN: Creating the story

September 14, 2009 at 5:53 am | Posted in about life, Book reviews, Education, Educators, Kids and reading, Librarians, Mystery books, Publishing your story, Writing | Leave a comment
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Now I had an author to write our story but what form should the story take? Gloria Smith Zawaski is unbelievably creative and has more ideas than I can keep up with. We met and shared.

At our next meeting Gloria mentioned that there would be a cemetery with a ghost near Aunt Jean’s farm. The kids meet the ghost who wants to return to the homeland of his ancestors in Africa. Great idea because our region has a number of black cemeteries. And Sojourner Truth was born about 1797 in Ulster County, which is the region where we live. So it would all fit.

Great idea Gloria, but I need to go back to Holland because of this Quadricentennial celebration coming up.  I want to use the celebrations being planned as a vehicle to sell the book. I figure the events will bring out many people, especially families, and that is the market I want to target.

So back to Holland we go. The kids would come from New York City to their aunt’s farm for a vacation. They would travel, through some kind of magic, to Holland where they would share adventures with Dutch kids. That would be the basis of the story.

As a publisher, you may ask, “What is my role?” I ask that all the time. I come up with ideas and share them with Gloria. Gloria develops the story and I provide feedback.

Gloria researches our stories and brings them to life on the printed page. My role make to make the sale of the book a reality.

 As we finish the first book, ideas for the next two books are coming from unusual sources.

 In the second book, Gloria takes kids to Mongolia. Why Mongolia? Gloria and I agreed that each book should visit another part of the world and possibly another continent.

I read the Wolf Totem by Jian Rong which takes place in Outer Mongolia. A beautiful setting for a people who are being overtaken by the Chinese. Then on NPR I head a story about a young man who uses throat singing to preserve the stories of his Mongolian ancestors. Gloria and I agreed to take our kids to Mongolia for 2010.

 And then, once again, we will visit Gloria’s ideas for an African adventure for 2011.

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How is a book born?

September 2, 2009 at 1:55 pm | Posted in about life, Education, Educators, Publishing your story, Writing | 1 Comment
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It’s been 18 months since I had an idea about helping kids learn about the Dutch Heritage that finally led to our becoming a book publishing group. Want to learn how an idea goes from the light bulb going off in your head to a reality? Follow my journey.

 I have always been an avid reader which led me to publishing two regional magazines for the past 15 years. But is that enough experience to publish a book? I would soon learn that the road is never straight, and there is a strong learning curve every step of the way.

 Where do ideas come from?
Along comes 2009 and the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s sailing from the Netherlands to New York and everyone is a flutter with excitement about what will happen this year. I happened on a newsletter from Hugo Gajus Scheltema, the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York, who said in a newsletter that he hopes that the legacy of diversity and tolerance of New Amsterdam will be recognized by those living in New York as well as the broader public in the United States. He suggests that the emphasis should be on education.

 And I thought, “Who better to carry out the legacy of understanding than our children?”

 Gloria, who eventually authored the first book we published, and I have been friends for many years. I also knew that she worked with the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines account as a copywriter when she was on Madison Avenue. Who better to call, if I am looking for someone to tell the story of the Dutch?

 We talked and she contacted her friends in Holland. I thought we were on our way. The discussions went back and forth.

 How should the story be told? What vehicle should we use?
I first thought this would be a short book, maybe 1,500 to 2,000 with separate pull out pages of dolls that kids could dress in clothing of the period when Henry Hudson sailed. I would include a carrying case for the dolls and the clothes. The dolls would be magnetic with magnetic clothing that adheres to the doll surfaces.

 I wasn’t sure about using magnetic dolls so I explored Colorforms. Remember Colorforms…where you stick and peel items on a page? I would print the stick n peel pages directly in the book and eliminate the need for carrying cases. But it was not so easy to find a printer who knew about the materials and could print it for me. I spent weeks looking for vendors until I happened on a group in California that publishes oversees. Not an easy process. Not quick turnaround. Not for me.  

 Now the tale was no longer a short story. At this point I was still negotiating with Gloria’s contacts and meeting with Gloria to discuss the project. I was not sure what direction we were going in.

 At one meeting I said to Gloria, “How about you writing the book? You know Holland and you know what I am looking for.” That was the beginning of our publisher-author relationship.

 While I can write, I do not consider myself a writer. I am better at conjuring up ideas and watching them fly.

How to use books in school programs

July 26, 2009 at 4:22 pm | Posted in about life, Community groups, Education, Educators, Kids and reading, Mystery books, Parent Teacher Groups | Leave a comment
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Our goal is to develop programs that are fun for the kids that is provides an educational experience. This has not been an easy task and I will keep you informed as we move forward.

We tested our initial program with 60 kids from 4th to 6th grades. The program worked well for the 5th and 6th graders, but we found we needed to revamp the program for the 4th graders.

 The presentation encourages kids to write their own Undercover Kid story. We figure we can do it for classes up to 30 kids. After that we have to change our strategy.

Here’s how it works: The teachers are provided with a copy of the book together with a suggested list of pages to read before the author and our staff visit. They also receive a program guide to use after our presentation.

 We introduce the program by getting the kids to talk about their travels and then about the lead characters, Katie, Jake and Cooper.  We play a word game where kids get into groups and are given 5 Adventure Cards with words they must use to create their own their own Undercover Kids Adventure story. They get two more series of Adventure Cards to use to complete their story. And then kids get a chance to read their completed adventure.  

Then Gloria Smith Zawaski, our author, tells the kids how she developed the series and the kids get a chance to ask her questions. The kids are encouraged to post their stories online.

What do you think works best for kids, whether its in the classroom or as part of a community group?

Creating effective program for kids in the classroom

July 21, 2009 at 12:33 am | Posted in Community groups, Education, Educators, Kids and reading, Parents | Leave a comment
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Right now we are creating and testing school presentations. Our goal is to develop programs for 4 through 6th graders that introduce The Undercover Kids’ Holland Adventure and use their knowledge of the book to create their own stories.  We want to encourage kids to read as well as to write.

I mentioned in my previous blog that we went to the Bishop Dunn Memorial School to test out our initial school presentations.

We visited three classes with kids from 4th to 6th grades. The author, Gloria Smith Zawaski, came to the first class with us. We introduced the characters and the book. Then we played word games where we handed out cards with 5 words in a group. The kids were asked to use the assigned words as a basis for their own Undercover Kids adventure. Once one kid read his story, it encouraged others to get up and read as well.  In their reviews, they said they liked the program.

They really enjoyed talking to the author. I was fascinated with their questions: Is Katie based on you? If you found a hole with a cover on it, like the Undercover Kids did, would you go down the hole? Those were two questions I hadn’t heard before.

But one thing we realized is that the program we designed worked great with 5th and 6tth graders. They didn’t need much coaching to develop story ideas, but the 4th graders require a more structured approach.  So for us it is back to the drawing board.

We are looking for new approaches for classroom presentations. What can you suggest?

By the way, if you would like us to come to your school send me an email at publisher@excitingread.com

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